Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Paper Midrash in North Carolina

This year, since High Holidays, Rabbi Shawna and I have been in Manhattan (NY), North Hollywood (CA), Cleveland (OH), Milwaukee (WI)... and we're just getting started! This past weekend we were in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, bringing Paper Midrash to Temple Emanuel – and we had a great time, as usual.

Rabbi Mark Cohn leading Erev Shabbat services with "Paper T'filah Visual T'filah"

We started the weekend with a pop-up gallery for an intimate gathering of temple leadership, then in to services which Rabbi Mark Cohn led with "Paper T'filah Visual T'filah" (which I made in cooperation with CCAR Press).

Rabbi Shawna and I gave a visual sermon on this week's Torah portion, which we called "Lech L'cha: Boldly Go," which referenced Abraham and Sarah (of course) but also Star Trek, The Fantastic Four, Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and more.

Saturday morning we led a Paper Midrash workshop, in which participants created beautiful and meaningful midrashic interpretations of Lech L'cha, cutting up comic books just like I do in my studio.

God calls to Abram and Sarai: "Lech L'cha!"

Abraham is a super hero, surviving being thrown into the fire by Nimrod.

Sarah has her own super hero: she talks directly to God and saves Abraham!

Sarah being carried into Egypt by Abraham, disguised as his sister, IN A COFFIN.
 Saturday night Rabbi Shawna and I presented "People of the (Comic) Book," a visual history of Jews and comic books, from the very first comic book in the 1930s up to present-day Jewish creators and characters.

Ready to talk about the patriarchs: Jerome, Joseph, Stanley, and Jacob

It's such a fascinating subject, and we have so much fun revealing the semi-secret Jewish world behind Superman, Batman, the Marvel cinematic universe... so much good stuff.

Religious school students making "Fold-and-Cut Torah" projects in the Lamed Center

Sunday morning we brought our "Fold-and-Cut Torah" project to the Temple Emanuel religious school – Rabbi Shawna and I led a special program for the fifth, sixth, and seventh grade students and their parents, while the K-5 classes used our lesson plan to create their own Torah focused on the values held in common with comic books.

Learning and praying with the "Twelve Tribes" papercuts

Sunday ended with a special service for the religious school led by Rabbi Cohn that incorporated my papercuts, including my "Twelve Tribes" series – so proud to have my work used in this beautiful studying/praying/learning experience!

Want more information about bringing Paper Midrash to your community? Contact us at for details.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Paper Midrash in Houston

There's a nice exhibition of my work at the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC Houston this fall – check it out if you can.

Monday, April 29, 2019

With Every Turn of the Maze

"With Every Turn of the Maze" Ketubah (click to enlarge)

Noah and Molly were married in a labyrinth on Bainbridge Island in Washington — and their ketubah places the couple and their vows between two curving paths reminiscent of that labyrinth. The labyrinth was designed and built by Jeffrey Bale, and is made of large and small stones in various configurations; the papercut ketubah was created by Isaac Brynjegard-Bialik and mirrors those configurations, but rather than stones it is made of cut-up comic books and an old book about puzzles and games.

hotos of the Jeffrey Bale labyrinth on Bainbridge Island

Imagine the various items peeking through the openings of the papercut as “things in a bag,” gathered together to mark their marriage (a custom developed by Rachel Adler) — but later, by the artist. They are representations of Noah and Molly as a couple but also as individuals who have chosen to pursue a path together. Within the paths of the papercut labyrinth are mazes, toys, books, numbers, words and phrases — all with meanings (some more obscure than others) that embody their journey to marriage as well as their continuing journeys.

Detail from ketubah (click to enlarge)

The comic books that make up this ketubah feature heroes that represent the couple, notably John Constantine and Wonder Woman. The places they’ve been, the things they’ve done... all within. Many of the comics used feature weddings, and the words “I love you” in a small heart-shaped stone at the bottom come from a June 2017 issue of Jessica Jones.

Detail from ketubah (click to enlarge)

And after deciphering the myriad elements included in the ketubah, there’s one more puzzle: the artist has provided all of the cut-out paper pieces in a jar for Noah and Molly, should they ever want to attempt to put them together in their original arrangement.

The ketubah includes:
Batman #50 (Sep 2018) – wedding issue
Claws #2 (Nov 2006)
Fairest #10 (Feb 2013)
Hellblazer #10 (Oct 1988), #103 (Jul 1996), #231 (Jun 2007), #275 (Mar 2011) – wedding issue, #22 (Apr 2015)
Jessica Jones #7 (Jun 2017) – “I love you”
Luke Cage, Power Man #17 (Feb 1973) – Stan Lee’s Soapbox with “vow”
Marvel Rising: Omega (Nov 2018) – pinball cover
Richie Rich Fortunes #37 (Nov 1977)
Runaways #15 (June 2006)
Star Wars #39 (Sep 1980)
The Thing #2 (Feb 2006), #8 (Aug 2006) – bar mitzvah issue
Walt Disney Chip ’N’ Dale #30 (1974)
X-Men #51 (Aug 2012) – wedding issue
X-Statix #23 (Jul 2004)

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Paper Midrash in the Windy City

Chillin' in Chicago at Cloud Gate (a.k.a the Bean)

We were worried about the cold. The temperature was going to be measured in single digits and, like true Southern Californians, we put on warm jackets when it dips below 65. We were concerned whether people would brave sub-freezing weather to make paper midrash with us... but they did! And it was great!

We led two workshops at Congregation Etz Chaim in Lombard, Illinois; one for adults and one for teens. The adults came for an evening of Havdalah, a little nosh, some teaching on Midrash, and cutting up comic books. Chicagoans are not stopped by cold weather; we had a big crowd, part of the vibrant adult education program at Etz Chaim.

Isaac teaching at Congregation Etz Chaim (and some participant artwork)

It was clear that participants were drawing on what they had studied in Melton and other programs; most participants were already familiar with what midrash is and they were ready to create their own.

Rabbi Shawna teaching at Congregation Etz Chaim (and some participant artwork)
The participants made some beautiful papercut explorations of the creation story in Torah and Midrash. Proving that pop culture is not just for kids, one couple even stumped Isaac with their favorite villain.

We got some great feedback from the group, like this: “Paper Midrash was fantastic! I love that we got to make a piece of art. I also enjoyed learning about the different types of interpretations from Torah, stories that fill in the gaps versus how Torah is put into practice. The presenters brought great energy and knowledge.”

Sunday morning we worked with the CEC high school teens. We brought lots of Spiderverse and Captain Marvel for the teens to work with and — again — we were pleased to see the depth of their designs and how even in working with the same story, no two designs were alike.

A beautiful place to teach teens about Midrash and art

More teen papercut artwork

In both groups there were multiple interpretations of a midrash in Talmud that says that trees talk to each other. We wondered if it was the experience of the seasons (something we don’t have the same way in California) that had people aware of the natural cycle of spring and  eagerly awaiting the the regrowth of trees.

Posing with the teen artists (and some more teen artwork)

We also led a workshop for the Jewish Federation and Jewish United Fund of Greater Chicago, at a fabulous communal space in the suburbs called Sketchpad, where a bunch of Jewish organizations share space for creative (and “regular”) pursuits.

Sketchpad was an incredible place to teach and create

We were so impressed with the concept for the space and how it was used; it was great to be able to work with talented and enthusiastic Jewish educators from different organizations, all under one roof.

With the group from Jewish Federation and Jewish United Fund of Greater Chicago

We loved learning about the space and the Jewish community in Chicago as much as we loved sharing midrash with the group. We always begin the creative part of our workshops with the blessing for creating art from On the Doorposts of Your House and were thrilled to introduce this prayer to Jewish educators, who were excited to bring it back to their own students.

Want more information about bringing Paper Midrash to your community? We’re currently scheduling residencies and workshops for the 2019-2020 academic year; contact us at for details.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Making Art and Talking Comics at Yavneh Day School

Rabbi Shawna and I had the privilege of visiting Yavneh Day School this week, where we we led a Paper Midrash workshop with their arts students and spoke at their Open House event.

The students we worked with are fortunate to be at Yavneh, where arts and "traditional" education go hand-in-hand. And since what we do is explore traditional Jewish texts through art, Paper Midrash was a perfect fit for their program.

Some of the students already had experience using knives for art, and it showed in their work.

We exploring the Torah portion of the week – Beshallach – which includes the parting of the Sea of Reeds, the Pillars of Cloud and Fire, some Egypt and Moses, a little Amalek and the desert... quite a lot of text to explore with some new midrash.

Rabbi Shawna put together a study sheet to help spark some ideas, and boy! did it ever.

Detail featuring figures caught up in the parting sea.

Detail of a timbrel filled with musical scenes from an Archie comic.

And after they had completed their work (as usual) we had a teach-back session, where all of the students shared their midrash and taught their classmates about the midrash they explored in their art.

That night their work was displayed at the Open House (along with some other wonderful projects); everyone was impressed with what they'd created.

Add we were pleased to deliver a presentation on "Comic Books and Holy Books" for all of the Open House attendees.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Song of the Sea: Paper Midrash at B'nai Tzedek

We just led another fabulous Paper Midrash papercutting workshop – this time at Congregation B'nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley, California.

This is the kind of fun stuff you get when you bring us in to speak to your community.

Rabbi Shawna and I taught a little bit about midrash, and Beshalach in particular (which includes Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea) – and then we gave a room full of people knives and told them to have fun (basically).

Here we are, unphotogenically presenting on midrash and comic books.
Photo by Rabbi David Young

Rabbi Shawna teaching some workshop participants as they get started with their projects.
Photo by Rabbi David Young

Isaac showing some workshop participants how it's done.
Photo by Rabbi David Young

Sorting through comics, looking for just the right ones.

Participants cutting paper underneath a few of Isaac's works in a "pop-up" gallery space.

CBT's Rabbi David Young getting a handle on his knife skills.

Final workshop papercut with the rod of Moses.

The women, singing and dancing as the sea parts.
A close-up look at a final papercut.

The tribes marching along in the parted waves.

Final workshop papercut featuring an angel's wing.

This papercut features a sequence of the waves parting, and "Moshe" in Hebrew.
Final workshop papercut, with a musical theme.

Close-up look at this musical paper midrash.

The Sea of Reeds, parted by the rod of Moses.

Miriam's timbrel raised in joyous song

We end all of our workshops with a "teach-back session."

Another musical midrash inspired by Beshallach.

"I am that I am."

Rabbi David Young sharing his final papercut with the group.

Sometimes workshop participants explore other themes – in this case, Abraham breaking the idols.

Rabbi David Young's final paper midrash, with the rod of Moses emblazoned with the name of God.

Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man: with great power...
The whole CBT workshop group with their final papercuts.